How the CSI Effect is Affecting Jurors

The fake investigators take their fake scanner, move it over the crime scene and find the piece of hair that they then use to prove beyond doubt who the perpetrator is. Millions of Americans watch these shows and see these super high-tech tactics and they start to get fact and fiction confused.

csi effect

Prosecutors complain that these law shows are making it harder for them to convince juries of suspects’ guilt. They argue that jurors’ exposure to these shows make the likelihood of conviction lower and lower as jurors look for the same high-tech tests to prove guilt.

This situation is called the “CSI Effect” and lawyers have been claiming for some time now that TV is having a damaging effect on the courtroom. This is how jurors are affected by law show viewers.

Unrealistic Time Expectations

While crime investigators appreciate the exposure of bringing their jobs to viewers’ attention, they also see the trouble it’s causing.

“And some of those problems are [that] people expect us to have DNA back in 20 minutes or that we’re supposed to solve a crime in 60 minutes with three commercials,” according to Mike Murphy, the coroner for Clark County, Nevada. “It doesn’t happen that way,” he says.

Since jurors have seen crime getting solved so quickly, they get frustrated and start to doubt the credibility of lawyers who can’t get evidence fast. In reality, most every crime laboratory has a backlog. When a show like CSI shows every case getting the lab’s immediate attention, jurors get the idea that they should get results ASAP.

Unrealistic Technology Expectations

Since writers of shows such as CSI have one goal and one goal only, to entertain, they aren’t that concerned with representing realistic versions of the technology. If inventing the new machine means entertaining the audience, they’ll do it.

The show’s makers suggest that their audience knows that there’s a difference between a show and reality, but lawyers still see it making a difference in juror expectation.

In fact, this juror desire to see the high-tech proof is causing death investigators to produce test results that may not even contribute to the crime, but which are desired by the jury. Research shows that almost two-thirds of jurors expect scientific evidence in every criminal case.

For example, Prosecutor Andy Wilson shares the time a juror asked why the crime-scene investigators didn’t dust a sex-crime victim’s body for fingerprints. It’s actually harder to get fingerprints from a crime scene than you might think.

Solutions to the CSI Effect

There are some positive aspects of television raising the bar for jurors. “People have come to expect more and they should,” Ohio Public Defender Tim Young argues. “No longer is it enough to have a police officer get up there and say, ‘in my opinion, he did it.'”

It’s good to raise the bar for a criminal conviction, but it shouldn’t be raised unreasonably high so that criminals get away unpunished. The National Academy of Sciences is trying to figure out a way to educate American citizens on the technologies and limitations of technology in crime investigation.

We’ll have to wait and see if they can get the funding to make it happen. We’ll hope for the sake of our law system that they do.

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